Every jump he took I nearly went over his shoulders, down into the darkness between the rocks.
“What’s down there Dad?” I wanted to know before I took the dive headfirst.
“Nothin’ much,” he said. “Just snakes and lizards.” I clung on so tight, must have dug my little nails into his neck.
“Ow! No need to hurt me.”
Finally over the scree, we stop and wait for my mother. She couldn’t jump so well. I looked around; the tall cliffs topped with spring snow loomed over our heads. An eagle gilded pass, it was so close I could see its huge eyes checking us out. Around my feet the moss and lichen clung to the rocks, stunted trees, prickly bushes.
My mother had made it.
“That’s it, I’m staying here, it’s too much,” she said between heavy breaths. “Stuff your mountain!”
Fifteen years later I stood close to where we had stopped that day. Nothing much had changed around me. Perhaps a few rocks had fallen off the cliffs; that eagle gliding past might have been the same one or at least an offspring. But today I turned my back on the scree and headed up towards the peak. I had always wanted to get up there since that first attempt, now I knew it was my time.
First though, I had to battle through the stunted bushes that congregated at the base of the towering pillars of rocks and find the track up through the cliffs. Toughened by the relentless wind and freezing snow they were fierce guardians of that mountain.
“You have to deal with us first, mate!”
So intent was I at battling those bushes I forgot to watch where I was actually going. Down on my hands and knees, face full of scratching leaves. My fingers searching for a rock that wasn’t going to cheat on me and give way as I pulled myself up.
Suddenly I was clear of undergrowth, and what a view! Down below the forests spread out giving way to farmland in the distance. Rivers and creeks snaked their way around the hills. It’s nice to look down when you’re half way up a mountain, it gives you a great sense of achievement. But eventually you have to look up, check out what’s next, even though your feet and legs have had enough and your fingers resemble bashed up sausages. So I looked and there was nothing there, no more rocks, no bushes…just blue sky and the rest of the mountain was over there, away from where I was. I had climbed up a dead end without knowing, a tall spiral of rock and plants that had separated from the rest of the mountain God knows when. I looked down again, the way I had come up looked impossible to go down without ropes, and hope. My feet rested on rubble, unstable, broken bits of the peak. It was even a stretch to grab one of those horrid bushes.
“Bugger, what now?” I thought. Friends had often advised me not to go mountain climbing by myself, and this was probably why.
Then the wind started to howl around me, great gust of cloud belted into the side of the mountain and my face started to freeze. You know, the weather can change in a matter of minutes up here in the peaks of western Tasmania, and changing it was, right now. My warm coat was in the back pack but it was so windy now I dare not remove my fingers from the crack in the rocks that was all I had to hold onto.
I was starting to feel like things might get a bit nasty. I could see the newspaper headlines, ‘DEAD. Stuck up a rock.’ With perhaps a photo of a helicopter winching my body off the top it.
“There must be some way off this mountain!” I yelled. I looked down again and at the base of this spiral of rock I could actually see the track I was supposed to be walking along. There were bushes and rocks everywhere down there. Perhaps I could use the toughness of these bushes to help me, they had plenty of spring in them. I guess the drop down was around ten to twelve metres, it would certainly be the end of me if I hit a rock down there. Just to help, I managed to get my back pack free and let it drop, hoping it wouldn’t bounce off the bushes and continue down the cliff side. It held, sitting right on top of the meanest looking plant I’d seen all day. It had bare branches sticking straight up towards me; if I missed landing on my back pack one of those might find a spot in my belly.
I hung up there for a minute or two, wondering if taking a leap was the right way to go. I could easily bounce down the cliff too. I said a little prayer, I hoped I’d been a good bloke and helped little old ladies enough in my life, then I let go and jumped.
Not so much a jump really, a drop would describe it better. It took me just long enough to realize what I was actually doing, then bang! onto back pack. I landed and held on but there wasn’t too much of a spring from the bush. A great big rock was under those branches, it didn’t hurt that much really. I rolled off the bush and laid on the track, looking up at the stormy sky.
“I guess I’m still alive.” Nobody heard me of course, but it was a great thing to say.